tv The Rachel Maddow Show MSNBC August 24, 2018 6:00pm-7:00pm PDT
interest because the president may welcome before him in a lawsuit. >> david jolly and barbara boxer, that was enlightening in a lot of different ways. conservatives are saying democrats are obsessed with impeachment, we have the inverse argument on our air. thank you both. >> thank you, senator, thank you, chris. if you haven't caught up on our podcast, now would be a great time because we talk about money and corruption, zephyr teachout holds this podcast. the rachel maddow starts with ali velshi in for rachel. >> thank you and have a great evening and thanks for joining us. rachel has the night off. she will be back on monday and we have a lot to get to tonight. the friday night of what has been a roller coaster week for the president and his associates we have a bunch of great reporters and legal experts to
look at what this week's developments mean for the president plus new reporting on what we know or don't know about what russia may be up to when it comes to the midterm elections but i want to start this night with these important questions. are you unsatisfied with the proximity to your private jet? if you are, you're not alone. >> ease and comfort are what it's all about but some people aren't content vacationing with their private jet, they ought to be able to live with it. across the country, private aviation communities or air parks are sprouting up. the most ambitious air park to do is jumbolair in ocala, florida. will offer residents a gated community with its own country club, a bed-and-breakfast, an
equestrian center and health club. >> private aviation communities, fly-in communities. they are apparently a thing that exists. in fact, there are apparently hundreds of them in the united states. they're cataloged on a web site called livingwithyourplane.com. not kidding. and that big one in ocala, florida, well, a few years ago gem b jumbolair decided to expand. a piece of land came up for sale in a tax foreclosure auction. the owners hadn't paid the tax. and the gentleman who owns jumbolair, frank merschman bought it. soon after buying it, he got a caught from someone representing the previous owners of the land he bought. the caller said he represents a qatari company that owned the land, would mr. merschman like
to buy two additional pieces of land from the qataris? so they acquired two more pieces 60 land for $650,000. the qataris' representative, the guy who first contacted frank merschman made off with a cool $100,000 for making the deal. the broker who made the money at this ocala, florida, air park? that man was an executive with the trump operation. the man's name is michael cohen and the "wall street journal" was able to chase down this strange real estate deal that michael cohen brokered a few years ago because this week michael cohen pled guilty to among other things hiding the $100,000 that he made selling property to a private aviation community in florida. hiding that $100,000 from the irs and failing to pay taxes on
it. on a property that was possessed because the owners didn't pay tax. the owner of jumbolair tells the "journal" the fbi interviewed him a few months ago about the transaction and said "i cooperated with them 100%." mr. merschman says he doesn't know how michael cohen and the qataris knew each other but says, quote, cohen knew all the people, he had done work for mr. aziz. mr. aziz being the qatari royal who owns the company that sold the land. and who would have thought that one real estate deal involving the qatari royal family and a florida air park would end up as part of a federal court plea four years later. if nothing else, this is a good reminder that michael cohen during his ten years with the trump organization had his hands in all kinds of deals, there was, of course, the trump tower moscow project that cohen and trump were pursuing during the
presidential election while simultaneous denying any such deals were being pursued. plus projects cohen was involved in with eastern europe the new yorker's adam davidson has reported were likely hot beds of money laundering. there's a lot we don't know about the inner workings of the trump organization which is why it probably made michael cohen, donald trump, and everyone else in the trump organization really nervous when the news broke today that the man who knows everything that has gone on inside that company for decades, well, he's been granted immunity by federal prosecutors, this man you are looking at, allen weisselberg. he's the chief financial officer of the trump organization. he's in his 70s. he's worked for the trump family his entire adult life. he started off working for the president's father. he has been at the trump organization apparently since its inception. according to the "wall street journal," weisselberg was close enough to the president and his
family that he handled household expenditures, personal expenditures, and purchases for them, including various dealings with banks. mr. weisselberg is the treasurer of the trump foundation, separate organization, which is under aggressive legal scrutiny in new york state. weisselberg is such an important and senior figure in the president's empire that when trump announced he was handing off day-to-day control of the trump organization now that he's president, the common short hand that we use for that transaction, look at the screen, is that the president handed overcontrol of his business to his two sons, don jr. and eric. not entirely true. the group to which he actually handed over control of his businesses consists of his two sons don jr. and eric and allen weisselberg. not incidentally, mr. weisselberg is also reported to have been personally responsible for preparing donald trump's tax returns for years.
and today nbc news is reporting that allen weisselberg was directly involved in the hush money payments to women who claim to have had affairs with donald trump. michael cohen pled guilty to two felonies for arranging those payments and said in court that he committed those felonies at the direction of donald trump. nbc news reports 245 allen weisselberg is executive one in the criminal investigation filed in the michael cohen case. according to that court filing, cohen said executive one, allen weisselberg, an invoice to be reimbursed for his hush money payment to stormy daniels. quote, executive one, weisselberg, forwarded that to another employee at the company stating, quote, please pay from the trust, post to legal expenses. put retainer for the months of january and february, 2017, in the description. but the money wasn't a retainer for michael cohen's legal services. it was reimbursement for a payoff. a reimbursement that executives
at the trump organization, quote, grossed up by hundreds of thousands of dollars beyond what cohen had paid out in hush money. whether allen weisselberg knew the true purpose of those funds and falsely reported them in the company's books, why michael cohen was paid all that extra money, who else at the trump organization was involved, these are all presumably questions that federal prosecutors got the answers to in exchange for giving mr. weisselberg immunity. and there's one other thing to keep in mind with all of this news today, that this top executive at the trump organization, essentially donald trump's right-hand officer at his business, has been given immunity by federal prosecutors. and it's this, david pecker, this guy, the "national enquirer" chief who was the keeper of donald trump's tabloid secrets, well, he's flipped and given information to prosecutors. michael cohen, the keeper of donald trump's personal secrets, he's pleaded guilty to crimes he
says he committed with trump and now allen weisselberg, the keeper of donald trump's financial and business secrets, he's been given immunity. donald trump is running out of hiding places. the other two executives who run the trump organization with allen weisselberg and who run the trump trust from which allen weisselberg ordered the cohen reimbursements be paid, they're both named trump. where are prosecutors going to go next? joining us now is david fahrenthold, "washington post" reporter, winner of a pulitzer prize for his coverage of the workings of the trump foundation and organization. david, great to have you with us. thank you for being with us. thank you for your reporting. i don't know if we can overstate how important allen weisselberg is to the trump organization to the trump foundation and donald trump. it's a name we didn't know until a few weeks ago from the tape with michael cohen, but this guy has been with donald trump from
the beginning. >> donald trump treated all points of his personal empire -- personal expenses, company, charity -- as one big pot of money and the person who oversaw all that pot of money was allen weisselberg. he would bring in checks individually for donald trump to sign. he didn't have a lot of executive responsibility, but he had a lot of administrative responsibilities, he handled the ins and outs of the money. if i was to pick one person besides donald trump sr. that was integral to the operation of the trump organization it would be allen weisselberg, it wouldn't be don or eric, it would be allen weisselberg. >> interesting. we're trying to get to the bottom of how valuable weisselberg is to investigators. given what you know about how the trump organization works -- and it's a little unorthodox, not like corporations, some of it feels like a corporation, some feels like something else, what's your sense of how the reimbursement to michael cohen would have worked? obviously as you say weisselberg would have been involved but would he have had to get approval from someone else? would there have been more
people involved? >> at this time, january and february 2017 there were only three people who had authority over the trust that donald trump put his business into. remember, donald trump still owns his business but the administration of it is left to this trust which is run by eric, don, and allen weisselberg. so allen weisselberg to me is not somebody who typically does things on his own, somebody tells him to do it, we dent know who gave that order. as you saw in the charging documents, the only executives mentioned are allen weisselberg and somebody who works for allen weisselberg so if there's some conversation between allen and don sr., don jr. or eric, it's not captured in that information. >> let me ask you to be clear, there's the trump organization, the trump foundation, a charity being looked at now by the attorney general of new york but this is a trust. weisselberg said please pay this from the trust. is this the company donald trump got up, is that the company that
donald trump announced he was handing over to his sons? >> that's right. the trump trust is an umbrella group that includes the trump organization. so when donald trump entered office, he kept ownership of his company, he kept the right to withdraw money from it at any time, he just changed something about the administration of it so while he still owns it and can withdraw money, he put in the the trust run by eric, don, and allen weisselberg. it's not a blind trust -- >> correct, he and his lawyers implied it's a blind trust. it's not. >> he spends half its time in his businesses so it's not a blind trust but there's no hard divider that says donald trump sr. can't know what's happening in his business. they made big promises and he said he'd stay away but there's no bar on reaching into his business. the trust is an administrative structure that doesn't keep donald trump out but gives day to day control to don jr., eric and allen weisselberg. >> what role if any would
prosecutors be looking at in terms of these transactions. >> we know allen weisselberg was asked about this in his testimony in the southern district of new york. we know from the criminal investigation he gave some information about it. we don't know the full picture and the question i have that lingering is were they interested? were they interested in anybody else in the trump organization? somebody who would have given the go ahead said yes, pay michael cohen for this reimbursement. somebody who would have given an order to allen weisselberg. if that order happened, it's not mentioned in the cohen charging documents and every reporter in america is trying to figure out what more will the district do that they haven't told us about? >> that's the big question. if anybody gets the answer, it will be you, david fahrenthold, thank you for your time. for more on this conversation, the legal implications of this, i'm joined by former u.s. attorney for alabama, joyce vance. great to see you, thank you for being with us.
your first reaction to allen weisselberg, the trump organization's cfo, being given this immunity? what's your first reaction as somebody who has been at the other side of the deal on this where you've given people immunity. why? >> so typically you give immunity because you're hoping to provide information or testify against someone who is higher up on the food chain than they are. you don't use a big fish to eat a smaller fish. my read is that he gets immunity in the hope that he can provide help with someone else and cohen doesn't look like the big fish that sdny would be going after here. >> so the implication is there's a bigger fish, we're trying to figure out who that is. the obvious choice is donald trump sr. but it could be donald trump jr. or eric. those are the only possibilities of somebody who's more senior to weisselberg in the organization. would that be true? >> at least in the organizations. and it's important that when you give someone immunity and try to
keep going up the chain in a prosecution, you don't always succeed. but these are good prosecutors, they know how to do these kinds of cases. it seems unlikely to me that they would have given weisselberg a pass if they didn't think he had value to offer them. >> the benefit of immunity is that i guess you're supposed to tell the prosecutors whatever they want to know or whatever you know and in exchange for that you can't be prosecuted for the things you tell them. i'm assuming there may be different flavors of immunity but the point is allen weisselberg can't get out there and plead the fifth. >> you know, there are different flavors of immunity and they come with different rights and responsibilities. but one of the important things to remember about immunity is that it's always better to have a witness cooperating with you voluntarily because they'll share information that they know. they're doing that to get a good deal for themselves. when you give a witness immunity, you compel them to speak to you. the only answers you get are the
answers to the questions that you know to ask that witness. so it's always preferable to have someone cooperating voluntarily and it's just not clear yet which what is going on here. >> i need you to go deep into the recesses of your mind into ancient history all the way back to tuesday when -- >> about six years ago in the trump administration. >> it is. it's light years and when michael cohen announced -- when they announced what was happening with cohen, strangely, the prosecution, the southern district of new york, did not announce a cooperation deal with him. now a number of lawyers -- and you and i have spoken, have told me that sometimes a cooperation deal emanates from a plea deal. where do you think we are on that? >> it's hard to know. i thought it was real surprising the to see cohen plead straight up to this indictment. looks like he has some place between four and six years of exposure. hard to know why he would have done that. he could have possibly gotten
some cooperation. there's been some speculation that his wife might have had exposure. he might have gone ahead and entered a plea of guilt to spare her. i just don't think we know yet and of course prosecutors could decide down the road that cohen does have some value and conclude a cooperation agreement with him at a later time. >> i think the tagline for the trump administration is i don't think we know yet. joyce, always great to see you. thank you for helping us get through it. joyce vance is a former u.s. attorney. much more to get to at the end of this incredible week of news. still ahead, the question just what may have changed in the last few days to change the way that prosecutors macon front the president. we've got that and much more ahead. stay with us.
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plus, get $300 back when you buy a new smartphone. xfinity mobile. it's simple. easy. awesome. click, call or visit a store today. the "tonight show" will not be seen tonight so we may bring you the following nbc news special report. >> good evening, the country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history. the president has fired the man you just saw, special watergate prosecutor archibald cox, and he has sent fbi agents to the office of the special
prosecution staff and the attorney general and the deputy attorney general and the president has ordered the fbi to seal off those offices. >> as tipping points go, the saturday night massacre was a biggie setting in motion a series of events that tald take down the nixon presidency. it occurred on october 20, 1973 but less than a month before that date something else happened that didn't get saturday night massacre level attention but it was arguably just as important. on september 24, 1973, the office of legal counsel, the olc, part of the department of justice issued a memo that concluded "criminal proceed against against a president in office should not go beyond a point where they could result in so serious a physical interference with the president's performance of his official duties that it would
amount to incapacitation." in plain english, please do not indict a sitting president. that was the opinion of the department of justice in 1973. 27 years later in 2002 same office of legal counsel doubled down on that opinion. quote, the indictment of criminal prosecution of a sitting president would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions. that came up against this week. the president's lawyers would have you believe that the olc's opinion is a hard and fast rule and therefore the special counsel robert mueller can not indict president trump while he is still in office and it's
understood that they have to follow the department of justice guidelines but it's true there are trap doors in those doj guidelines. that might mean there is a way to indict a sitting president. should the special counsel conclude that the extraordinary circumstances of any particular decision would render compliance inappropriate so the president could inn theory ask deputy attorney general rod rosenstein for a hall pass to ignore that olc memo about not indict ago sitting president and, by the way, that's not the only track door. and on the office of legal
counsel's home page, "by delegation from the attorney general, the assistant attorney general in charge of the office of legal counsel provides legal advice to the president and all executive branch agencies." that's important. provides legal advice to the president and all executive branch agencies. guess who's not part of the executive branch? state attorneys general like new york's attorney general barbara underwood who just subpoenaed michael cohen as part of an investigation into it. a yale law professor says the idea of a state attorney general trying to indict a sitting president, if a case went forward that would -- it would be up to the courts to decide whether the president is immune from criminal prosecution. up to the courts, not the department of justice. so if you were looking for a trap door in the office of legal counsel's opinion on indicting a sitting president, the trap
doors are there -- if you know where to look. joining us now is matt axelrod, a former justice department prosecutor and senior department of justice official under president obama. matt, thanks for joining us. you have been looking into this. you have been thinking about this and the provocative argument mere is that even if we assume rural's hands are fully tied by the olc opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted in 1973 and in 2000, there might be other people who can step in, namely state and local prosecutors. can you think of any precedent for this? >> no, there's no precedent. this is uncharted territory. the one caution, ali, is the olc opinion is binding on the executive branch inincludes the special counsel. not binding on state attorneys general. but the underlying analysis in the olc opinion concludes that indictment of a sitting president is unconstitutional. if that analysis is correct, in
other words if courts were to agree with that analysis, that would preclude state attorneys general as well as federal prosecutors from rushing an indictment. >> so in other words the state attorney general is not bound by the rule but it would appear before a court and that court may say it doesn't matter who did it, it's not constitutional. >> that's exactly right. and the way prosecutors work is they're not looking for trap doors in policies. they are trying to figure out what the facts and evidence are and what the law allows so if a state attorney general looking at this on the merits concludes that the olc got it right that it would be unconstitutional to indict a sitting president. they won't go forward just because they're not bound by the olc opinion. on the other hand, if they go n good faith looked at the issues and concluded that they think the olc got it wrong and that it is constitutional to indict a sitting president, that's maybe a different story and maybe they
would think about going forward if they had the facts in evidence to support a charge. >> i think it fair to say that a lot of people don't know about the olc. they do come up with these sort of guidelines and rules and they did so in 1973 and they reexamined it, i'm not sure what caused it to be reexamined in 2000 but they did it again. there could be cause to reexamine it another time. >> if the special counsel or if rod rosenstein wanted the olc to take another look at the issue they could make such a request and ask the olc to reconsider. it's not clear what has changed that would cause olc to reach a different conclusion but they can make that request and ask them to revisit the issue. so this thing on the web page, the home page of the olc, should the special counsel conclude that the extraordinary circumstances of any particular decision would render compliant,
what does that make you think about? i've had people tweeting me saying the president, as he likes to talk about, shot someone in the head on fifth avenue, that may result in someone being able to indict him. what does that line look like? >> the extraordinary circumstances language is in the special counsel regulations and it applies to extraordinary circumstances that would allow special counsel to seek dispensation from the attorney general not to comply with any of a variety of department of justice policies and procedures, not specific to this particular olc opinion. i may be in the minority but i don't see any extraordinary circumstances that would justify departure from the olc opinion here. in other words, the crux of the olc opinion holds it's unconstitutional to indict a sitting president.
that's exactly what special counsel mueller would be doing, i guess, in your hypothetical so it's hard to see what the circumstances of indicting would carve out, would allow and justify the attorney general from departing from olc opinion that binds the executive branch. i may be in the minority but i don't see that as a likely scenario. >> mostly what i'm trying to do, what they say you can indict a sitting president, i want to help the viewers get to an understanding of where the rule comes from and this is fundamentally what it is and you helped us understand that. matt axelrod, former justice department prosecutor, senior doj official under president obama, thanks for your time. >> thank you. still ahead, the cautionary tale of a trump cabinet member who believed he had friends in washington and a real life spy mystery. stay with us. we'll be right back. hat? no, what? i just switched to geico
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feels like a newly dangerous moment for the embattled ag. it started -- as do so many things related to donald trump -- with a tweet storm early this morning. quoting sessions himself, trump writes, department of justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. jeff, this is great. what everyone wants, so look into all of the corruption on the other side, including deleted e-mails, comey lies and leaks, mueller conflicts, mccakmccak mccabe, strzok, page or open the papers and documents without redaction. come on, jeff, you can do it. the country is waiting. and then a few minutes later, exnsa contractor to spend 63 months in jail over classified information. gee, this is small potatoes compared to what hillary clinton did. 10 unfair, jeff, double standard. that is warning sign number one for jeff sessions. number two, we have a flash back for that.
flashback friday to july 20, 2017. here is senator lindsey graham, a member of the judiciary committee at that time. >> this effort to basically marginalize and humiliate the attorney general is not going over well in the senate. if jeff sessionss is fired there will be holy hell to pay. >> that was lindsey graham then, this is lindsey graham yesterday. >> the attorney general doesn't have the confidence of the president and i think there will be serious discussions about a new attorney general. >> ooh, snap. graham is not the only republican coming out to voice doubts about jeff sessions. senator bob corker said last night, "moves are being made to oust sessions after the midterm elections" while senator richard shelby who was once sessions'
co-senator from alabama admitted a lot of those jobs are tenuous when you're in the cabinet. if you're jeff sessions and you see your colleagues and protectors in the senate saying your days are numbered, it seems like a clear signal. not a good signal, but a clear signal. for the rest of us, we still have the questions of how we got to this point in an american presidency and what comes next. hold that thought.
this really has been one of those weeks in the news that feels like riding a roller coaster without a seat belt on. the first loopty loop came over the weekend. monday trouble came in the form of the president's long time personal lawyer, loans inquiry may soon put michael cohen in a bind. a generation ago. on tuesday, wow, the president's campaign chairman paul manafort wiz convi
was convicted of eight criminal felonies, he's facing a decade in prison with another trial ahead. any other story that would have been the front page but look on the left of your screen. it was pushed to the side in the relatively humble font by this -- pleading guilty, cohen implicates president. the president's person lawyer saying he committed eight different felonies with two of those felonies, quote, in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office. we know that to be donald trump. there is reason this headline is in all caps. there's a reason it stretches the entire length of the newspaper and seems to be screaming at you at the top of its newspaper lungs. this is the sitting president basically being called an unindicted co-conspirator to a crime as an active participant in an illegal hush money payment by michael cohen to boost trump's chances of becoming president this is trump's long time personal lawyer, this guy
here, declaring in open court under fear of perjury that he was directed to commit the crime by candidate donald trump and that they conspired together for to get donald trump closer to the oval office. that's what michael cohen pled guilty to in those two felony counts. that news this week, that the sitting president was not only adjacent to criminal activity during the election but an active participant in it. that opens a brand new window into the way we view this presidency and what might come next. joining us now is the supreme court reporter for the "new york times" and barbara mcquaid, former u.s. attorney for the eastern district of michigan. thank you for being with us on a friday night. adam, let me ask you about the gravity of what happened this week because for those of us who are in it all the time it does feel like something different happened, something about the way we have to look at and refer to and treat this presidency.
>> we've crossed a significant step here. the president's former lawyer said the president directed him to commit campaign finance violations in order to influence and election to say nothing of the fact of the affairs with playboy models and porn stars. it's an extraordinary thing to have your lawyer say that and there is next step it would be an indictment of the client. >> the legal liability faced by the president widened. the legal liability of the president is no longer an abstraction. that's meant some people are openly talking about impeachment but let's put that aside. how do you view the fact the president can't continue to push away the idea that nothing illegal happened around him or at his direction?
>> yeah, illegal on so many different fronts now just in this week alone that has unfolded as adam just talked about, this conspiracy to commit campaign finance violations and potential impeachment for that. but the things happening in the state of new york i find interesting. this attorney general's civil suit involving the trump foundation which she has referred to for a criminal tax investigation. that suggests that has some legs. a case we prosecuted in michigan against the former mayor of detroit was similar using a charitable foundation as a personal slush fund. that can be charged as wire fraud, tax charges so i think president trump finds himself a target of criminal investigation on many fronts. >> talk about that. there's donald trump, there's the trump organization, the trust which we discussed earlier which he handed over to his sons and allen weisselberg and there
is the foundation which weisselberg is involved with. why is it relevant that new york state, the attorney general of new york is involved? >> well one reason that could be significant is thapar dons are not available in the state system so even if president trump wants to pardon everybody who gets convicted in the federal system he lacks the ability for anybody who gets pardoned in the state system. th so although the supreme court may decide the constitutional question. th there's nothing that will prevent the president from being charged in the state system. >> adam, we non-lawyers have become interested in the intricacies in the legal system that i had with matt axelrod about indicting a sitting
president. a lot of people don't want to have the conversation about impeachment. 40 percent of americans might be interested, more than half are not, democrats don't want to talk about it and no republicans do but you wrote a remarkable article about what the framers of the constitutions thought about reasons for impeachment. tell us about this. >> i thought you draw a bright line that president should be impeachmented for things he does in office, for abusing the power of his office and stuff he did before he got into office is for the criminal system not impeachment but when you look back at the funding documents, at the debates in the constitutional convention it turns out they care deeply about the middle zone of someone who obtains the office corruptly. in particular they said let's assume the president bribes a member of the electoral college, surely we won't let that person keep his office and similarly
this kind of conduct we're hearing about now if true is in that zone. this is alleged to be an effort by the president to keep citizens from knowing information they might want to know in voting for the president by corrupt means so it's the kind of thing the founders cared about a lot. >> so there's some legal scholars who think this is relevant. barbara, others say every dollar spent in a campaign is meant to influence the election, some is legal, some not. but in this particular case the argument the president did something illegal prior to being in office but did so with the aim of gaining office becomes relevant to the impeachment discussion. >> i agree with what adam has to say. an analogy to that might be when people procure their naturalization by fraud. they become a u.s. citizen but if you unwind it and look at their application, if they lied to obtain citizenship a judge
can strip someone of their citizenship. it's the same concept. if you obtain this thing by fraud you should not be permitted to keep the benefit of that fraud so i also think this week president trump has never looked more frightened and more like a mobster than when he talked about that flipping should be illegal. >> unbelievable. >> people who talk like that are people who are afraid of people telling the truth about them. he's cornered and he's concerned about those who might tell the truth about them. >> barbara mcquaid, former u.s. attorney for the eastern district of michigan. adam liptak, a reporter covering the supreme court. thanks to both of you. still ahead, sometimes the most urgent alarm makes no sound at all. that story ahead. stay with us.
the intelligence community continues to be concerned about the threats of upcoming u.s. elections. both the midterms and the presidential elections of 2020. in regards to russian involvement in the midterm elections, we continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by russia to try to weaken and divide the united states. >> earlier this month, dan coats, the director of national intelligence issued the latest in a string of warnings from the intelligence community about continued russian interference in u.s. elections. now, his warning dove tails off
the intelligence community's report from january 2017 documenting for the first time in detail just how russia sought to influence the 2016 election. the classified version of that report included information about not only the methods used to collection the information but also the sources. sources which are now at risk, according to new reporting in the new york sometimes. the paper today reads kremlin sources go quiet, leading cia in the dark for putin's plans. the cia and other spy agencies are in the dark about precisely what mr. putin's intentions are for november's midterm elections, according to american officials familiar with the intelligence. according to the times, the officials do not believe the sources have been compromised or killed. instead, they have concluded that they have gone to ground amid more aggressive counter
intelligence by moscow, including efforts to kill spies like the poisoning in march in britain of a former russian intelligence officer that utilized a rare, russian made nerve agent. the times continues, informants close to putin are very rare, according to current and former officials. if those people go silent for their own protection, it can make it very hard for the agency to look inside moscow. joining us, former u.s. ambassador to russia. good to see you again tonight. >> sure. >> hasn't it always been extremely dangerous to be a spy in russia or a source that's close to putin? what's made it more dangerous? >> well, the answer to your first question, of course, is yes. extremely dangerous. and, you know, what has changed, i don't know. i mean, the reporting was quite extraordinary to me.
i'm wondering how do we know this, who are these american officials telling this story. it doesn't sound like it was coming from those directly involved. and, you know, i just have to trust that they know that for a fact. i mean, the theory that you just described and what's described in the story could make sense, but there could be alternative theories, too, as to why this line of inquiry, this line of information is no longer producing in the way it did before. >> everything about the story is strange, the fact it is a news story that everyone is source for it. it makes me wonder is it true and what would be the purpose of telling this story. i mean, it's got to be difficult to cultivate someone in vladimir putin's orbit, in his inner circle anyway. >> it is very difficult. he's a spy himself. he understands these things. he takes precautions. there have been breaches before. and those people have been dealt with in horrible ways. and remember what is a source as
somebody who used to read this stuff, and i need to be careful here, it could be somebody in the inner circle or somebody that interacts with the kremlin from time to time. >> right. >> we don't know exactly who they are talking about. >> it doesn't mean a spy. it could be somebody with whom there is a good relationship. >> but to me the point is we're confused about putin's intentions for the 2018 election and on that i agree. you know, i'm somebody that follows russian politics and what russian officials say in the nonclassified domain now. i used to do it in both domains and i don't think it is obvious what they're seeking to achieve in 2018. it might just be to keep sewing division in society and amplifying those divisions that are already there and just that's it. and one very, you know, plausible hypothesis, theory we have to keep in mind is that
putin said, hey, we're not going to play in this election. it is too confusing to know who helps us and who doesn't. we will take a time here and then we will become complacent. we'll say, oh, there was no big russian thing and of course there was. and then the big fight in 2020, we won't be ready for again. >> yeah. that's the warning we need to take very seriously. >> thanks for having me. >> we'll be right back. dates! you look amazing. and you look amazingly comfortable. when your v-neck looks more like a u-neck... that's when you know, it's half-washed. add downy to keep your collars from stretching. unlike detergent alone, downy conditions to smooth and strengthen fibers. so, next time don't half-wash it. downy and it's done. you wouldn't accept from any one else. why accept it from an allergy pill?
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house apparently killed it. you'd think the recent attempt at hackings of their fellow lawmakers might focus on this as a concern, but apparently not if the president tells them not to do it. that does it for us tonight. rachel will be back on monday and i will see you on my shows at 11:00 and 3:00 eastern. it is time for the last word with lawrence o'donnell. lawrence, it is a pleasure to speak to you live. we so rarely get the chance. >> thank you very much for allowing rachel to have a well deserved friday night off for a change. >> have a good evening, sir. >> thank you, alex. this was donald trump's worst week as president and no doubt the worst week of his life. the second worst thing a businessman or a politician can hear is, your accountant has immunity. the worst thing is you are under arrest, and that is usually the next thing that happens to you when your accouan